Tipping for Dummies

By Paige Wiser

1338705_origAt the holidays, those bells ringing on every street corner aren’t celebrating the magic of the season. Those bells are pealing to appeal for a handout, whether it’s the Salvation Army or a twentysomething urchin clutching a Greenpeace binder.

How do you say no?

That’s easy, of course. You don’t have to. It’s no great inconvenience to just cross Oak Street, or crouch behind the shopping showoff with the enormous Hermes bags. Any church is understood to be a sanctuary, as is the Tom Ford flagship store.

You want to give, of course. But you don’t want to be bullied into it. And who carries cash these days? Coins add weight, and weight is bad. You don’t want to jingle when you walk, unless it’s due to an excess of Cartier bangles.

Yes, the recession has quieted down this year, and unless you’re being investigated for fraud, you can afford to be generous again. If you do it right, there’s almost no chance that you’ll break the bank and end up panhandling on State Street in your Louboutins.

But this is Chicago. We give differently here. For instance, we’re not very adventurous, charitywise. Your safest bet, socially speaking is to give to a school or a museum. In 2013, the Zells donated at least $50 million to the University of Michigan; the Crowns gave $10 million to the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.; and Oprah Winfrey lavished $12 million on the Smithsonian. Smart money says that she’s angling to have her springer spaniels stuffed and displayed there some day.

But if there’s no chance that your donation will result in a building named after you, a statue, or at least a nice bench, your money is best spent elsewhere. Chicagoans tend to go for any charity that involves the ’85 Bears. The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation, for instance, or any golf tournament hosted by Mike Ditka.

In some circles, it’s also become chic to adopt a dying newspaper.

Your most important holiday donations, of course, will go to your personal service professionals. Again, this is where Chicago has its own style of giving. New Yorkers are driven by pure self interest: “If I tip my doorman well, maybe he won’t spit at my visitors.” In Los Angeles, people are driven by karma and/or their inevitable reincarnation: “If I tip my colonic technician generously, maybe I’ll come back as someone famous!”

In Chicago, our generosity is driven by one thing: GUILT. Catholic guilt is contagious, of course. We also feel guilty that our culinary scene is so meat-centric. We feel guilty for giving money to street people so that we don’t have to see them anymore. We feel guilty for being secretly proud that our government is so corrupt.

There’s nothing, really, we can’t feel guilty about. And so we don’t skimp on holiday tipping.

A 2012 Zagat survey determined that these were the average nationwide holiday tips for the following:

The nanny: $363

This is mainly a thank you for not psychologically warping or losing the kids.

The garbage collector: $25

This is in acknowledgment that he could rattle around the empty vodka bottles in our trash while the neighbors are out power walking, but restrains himself.

The doorman: $68

Here, Chicagoans tend to tip much higher. A doorman just wields too much power. He should be tipped for not laughing when we stumble home drunk, for not judging the food we order in, or our late-night visitors. He should be tipped for maintaining a professional poker face at all times.

Waxing technicians were not included on the list, but when it comes to tipping there, obviously, the sky’s the limit.

We’re not like those other cities, who give purely out of self-interest. They’ll only write a check if there’s something in it for them.

Not Chicagoans. We give without guile, and with a smile. And hey, if the people we tip end up being people who can help us in some way – all the better! That’s the holiday spirit.

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